Sometimes, being in the cloud means you get rained on

Most folks have probably seen the commercials: an upper-middle-class family is stuck in some domestic conundrum, then someone raises an eyebrow and exclaims: “To the Cloud!” And soon, thanks to some magical cloud computing wizardry, their suburban snafu is solved.

Working “in the cloud” is great for some things – anyone who uses GMail or manages projects on Basecamp will tell you that – but when it’s the foundation for an entire product, my advice would be: Wait for a sunny day to buy. Microsoft – purveyors of the afore-mentioned cloud-hawking commercials – have, in a fit of ironic self-interest, proven my point mightily.

You see, last year, Microsoft cozied up with Verizon Wireless to introduce the Kin line of mobile phones. Squarely targeted at tweens and hipsters, Kin devices were “cloud-based”, meaning they synchronized all their owners’ personal goodies – such as photos, videos, contacts and social networks – with “the cloud”. In this case, “the cloud” meant Microsoft’s Kin Studio online service. Which, as of the end of March, will be shuttered.

That’d be all well and good if Kin devices were as useful without cloud connectivity as they were with it – but sadly, this isn’t the case. In fact, without Kin Studio, Kin owners’ handsets will have around the same feature set as your typical feature phone. The moral of the story? Before you sink your hard-earned money into a device that derives its usefulness from “the cloud”, or worse-yet sign a 2-year contract to get such a device on a carrier subsidy, learn what might happen if the cloud services upon which your new toy depends should, one day, turn to vapor.

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